Up 4-1 in the fifth set, Long Beach found itself 11 points away from a winning weekend. It surrendered the lead, but rallied to win the set and final match of the preseason (25-22, 25-19, 25-13, 25-19, 15-12).
Long Beach (8-5) has won five of its last six games heading into conference play. The win also marks the first road loss of the season for Fresno State.
“I feel confident going into the season, we’re healthy and playing at a good level,” head coach Joy McKienzie-Fuerbringer said.
The fifth set was streaky for both sides. After gaining the early lead, miscommunication on passes from Long Beach let Fresno back into the game. The 49ers got help from a controversial call, however, when the Bulldogs were called for a net-touch, giving the 49ers a 10-8 lead. Senior outside hitter Tyler Spriggs and freshman outside hitter Allison Martinez both had crucial kills, with the latter putting the team up 13-11. Long Beach won the set and the match when Fresno failed to get the ball over the net on its third touch.
“I’m really pleased to see different people in different roles that can come in and do something for our team, they’ve been putting in the work,” McKienzie-Fuerbringer said.
Spriggs was a force for the 49ers early on. Ten of her team-high 12 kills and her four blocks came before the end of the third set.
Spriggs made one of those blocks at a critical moment along with senior opposite hitter Emma Kirst to give Long Beach set point at 24-22 of the first set and awaken the 873 fans.
Kirst was a formidable presence at the net during the second set. After Fresno took an early 11-6 lead, she recorded three straight points, two of them on blocks to put Long Beach back within three at 17-14. Fresno, however, never relinquished the lead and tied the match at a set a piece.
“Us as coaches have been trying to figure out where the pieces fit and i’m heading into conference with a lot of confidence that we’ve got a lot of tools,” McKienzie-Fuerbringer said.
The 49ers had opportunities in the second set to at least threaten Fresno’s lead, but playing for the third night in a row, they began to look disorganized. Two double faults and a shot wide down the line helped Fresno to pull away.
The 49er’s performance in the third set was easily the most dominant showing from either team. Fresno got into error trouble early in the frame, drawing visible signs of frustration from its head coach Jonathan Winder. In the disarray, Long Beach found momentum and settled into system. Helped by more aggressive play from Spriggs, they rolled to a 25-13 set victory for a 2-1 lead in the match.
Martinez put on a show in the fourth set, with three straight kills early. The freshman tied Spriggs for a team-leading 12 kills in the match and led all Long Beach players with a .733 hitting percentage.
“I was trying tool the block a lot more, I was trying to use the block instead of hit away from it because I think that’s something we don’t use a lot and I think it can definitely work if we’re able to take advantage of it,” Martinez said.
Long Beach opens conference play at the Walter Pyramid at 7 p.m. Tuesday against UC Riverside.